What are meta tags?

Meta tags are termed 'meta' because they contain information about other information. In the case of a web page, the contents of meta tags describe the page as a whole. The information is primarily intended for the browser or search engine and none of the meta tag contents appear on the page. In this respect, meta tags are like the page title except that the meta tag contents don't even appear along the top of the browser window.

Some of the different types of meta tag are concerned with whether a page should be kept in the browser's cache or whether the page location should change to another URL location. The three meta tags this tutorial covers are specifically to do with search engines:

Keywords - a list of words that summarise the web page.
Description - a plain text explanation of the page.
No-index - a command that the page should not be indexed.

Each meta tag has two parts, the NAME which for this tutorial is either KEYWORDS, DESCRIPTION or ROBOTS, and the CONTENT which contains a list of your own choosing.

Here's an example of how these meta tags appear in HTML:

<META NAME="keywords" CONTENT="london school of economics and political science, lse, universities, uk">

<META NAME="description" CONTENT="The London School of Economics and Political Science homepage">

If you didn't want the page to be indexed, another meta tag can be used:


Keywords are the words that you would most likely expect would-be visitors to your site to use when searching. The results of the log analysis pages (http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/websiteStatistics/) contain a list of search terms people used before they visited your site and could be useful in deciding which to use. You can separate each keyword or keywords with a comma as in the LSE example above. Differences in case are ignored and the LSE search engine will consider all of the words individually.

If a page is found by the search engine, the Description is the text that appears on the results page beneath the link to the matched page. If no meta data is present, search engines commonly show either the text of headings or the first words that appear on the page.

The LSE search engine also indexes the words that comprise the description and will show any matched word in bold, e.g. 'The London School of Economics and Political Science homepage'.

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